Courtesy of the Block Island Tourism Council/Michael Melford
Block Island, Rhode Island
While visitors flock to this island in the summer, come autumn you can have the outpost practically to yourself. The Block Island Ferry still runs a few times a day, but shops open only on weekends, and dining is restricted to four restaurants. The upside: It's a perfect time to explore the 17 miles of beachfront (all free and open to the public), hike 40 miles of nature trails, or tour the island by bike or moped; 800/383-2474 or blockislandinfo.com.
Port Isabel, Texas
Fall gives visitors a chance to experience a quieter side of Port Isabel, the oldest city in south Texas. Stay at the waterfront White Sands Motel, Marina, & Restaurant; dine at Pirate's Landing overlooking the Laguna Madre Bay (don't miss the world's largest fly-fishing rod!). Other area attractions include the Port Isabel Lighthouse, where you can climb 72 steps to the top for sprawling bay views. On November 4, the area will host the World's Championship Shrimp Cook-Off; 800/527-6102 or portisabel-texas.com.
Pink Sands, Harbour Island, Bahamas
With hurricane season ending and high-season prices a month away, what better time to visit the famed Pink Sands? This Out Island resort offers high-end amenities: private getaways (the Bimini cottage epitomizes paradise), Caribbean-fusion cuisine, and expansive Atlantic views. The high season begins December 19, but until then savvy vacationers can save up to $750 per night at this award-winning hotel, edged by―you guessed it―the Bahamas' signature pink sands; 800/407-4776 or pinksandsresort.com.
November marks the beginning of harvest season for California Dungeness crab, and you can catch your own off the 1,140-foot Pacifica Municipal Pier at Sharp Park Beach, just 15 minutes south of downtown San Francisco. No fee or license is required, but you will need to bring or rent equipment. Hike Milagra Ridge, 239 acres of Bay Area open space overlooking the Pacific, where foxes, deer, and even bobcats have been spotted; cityofpacifica.org.
Sunset Beach, Oahu's North Shore, Hawaii
Of Oahu's more than 125 beaches, this one best captures the attention of both surfers and spectators. From November to February, professional boarders flock to Sunset Beach to catch monster waves―some reaching 20 feet―that roll in from storms in the north Pacific, thousands of miles away. But you don't have to brave the breakers to have a blast. Visitors along the 2 miles of shorefront gasp as daredevils take part in competitions such as the Triple Crown of Surfing, held this month; 808/637-4558 or gonorthshore.org.
Ingonish, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
Grab your binoculars, and head to Cape Breton for some of the best birding in Nova Scotia. Ingonish, near Cape Breton Highlands National Park, is a great place to start. Build your nest at Lantern Hill & Hollow's oceanfront cottages just off the Cabot Trail, where bird lovers can view shorebirds and seabirds, including Atlantic puffin and northern gannet; 800/565-0000 or novascotia.com.
Virginia Beach boardwalk, Virginia
More than 30 blocks of Virginia Beach's boardwalk light up each evening for the annual Holiday Lights at the Beach, beginning in mid-November. This is the only time of year cars are allowed the boardwalk. For six weeks, visitors are treated to more than 250 animated displays, including sailboats, mermaids, colorful fish, and holiday icons. Each vehicle gets a CD of holiday music to listen to on the glowing drive ($10 per car); 800/822-3224 or vbfun.com.
Sunset Beach, North Carolina
Tee up on Sunset Beach, the southernmost of North Carolina's Brunswick Islands. It's a golfer's dream, with more than 100 courses within 40 miles, and semitropical weather enjoyed year-round (autumn and winter temperatures rarely drop below 50 degrees). Take advantage of Sea Trail golf resort's "Day with the Pro" special (available October through March), or try out one of three award-winning courses within the resort; 888/229-5747 or seatrail.com.
La Jolla Cove, California
The sheltered waters of the cove, a protected marine sanctuary within the San Diego La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, provide some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the area―at times, underwater visibility can exceed 30 feet. In the off-season, you can leisurely explore a submarine canyon, reefs, and shipwrecks. After all that work, close the day with dinner in the Ocean View Room at Georges California, or on the rooftop at the more casual Ocean Terrace ( georgesatthecove.com); 858/454-5718 or lajollabythesea.com.
Long Beach, Long Beach Peninsula, Washington
Don't be scared off by bad weather. This peninsula, approximately 200 miles southwest of Seattle, hosts some excellent storms―and savvy visitors. The boardwalk offers an up-close-and-personal look at the "Graveyard of the Pacific," if you can brave the wind and rain (beware of "sneaker" waves and slippery logs). For a drier storm-watching experience, the Lightship Restaurant offers a bird's-eye view of nature's glory. Photo ops are endless, and beachcombing after a storm can't be beat; 800/451-2542 or funbeach.com.